As I approach my second marathon, I’ve recently been receiving quite a lot of interest in how I started running and what has lead me to this point. People are generally shocked these days when I say I’ve only been running for 2 years, and after spending half an hour taking questions at my daughter’s preschool this morning I’ve started to realise it’s probably a story worth telling!
So… I started running two years ago, after the birth of my second child. At this point I was physically and mentally quite broken; I’d become pregnant in 2013 with my son Archie following a miscarriage which I’d really struggled to deal with. Historically I had struggled with a serious eating disorder and after what I put my body through, my ability to have children was a bit of an unknown, and I still had a tendency to restrict what I ate, so naturally I blamed myself for the miscarriage. When I fell pregnant again I left my eating issues behind and for the first time ate in an unrestricted way, while being afraid to do any exercise, and essentially “wrapped myself in cotton wool” out of fear of another miscarriage. The net effect was that during my first pregnancy I put on 4 stone. By the time I had Holly in March 2016, I’d endured two pregnancies in the space of three years, both of which had some complications and both ended in c-sections. I was just about tolerating my weight gain but was profoundly unhappy about it. The early days with both children had been difficult, in and out of hospitals – breastfeeding was not successful either time. Family relationships were less than ideal, there was stress everywhere. Confidence and self esteem have never been strong points for me but I really was at an all time low and I was re-diagnosed with postnatal depression.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, having never really been a runner (more the sort who would see how much a 10k would hurt on a red wine hangover!) I decided to lace up my (very old) shoes one evening and head out. I didn’t know where I was going or whether I would be able to make it to the end of the street, but it was simply the act of getting myself out of the door and away from the kids and the house for some time on my own, outside, with nature. Those first runs were fraught with anxiety about who from the village might see that I was trying to run. I used to take a jumper and pretend I was just walking to the shop until I got out into the lanes!
I wasn’t confident enough to trail run then, and my time was very limited, but we have always been lucky enough to live within walking distance of remote country lanes with fields everywhere (and hills, lots of hills!), and that’s the next best thing. I took a couple of months to work my way up to 5k, getting out a few times a week, walking and running. To start with I used Audiofuel (http://www.audiofuel.co.uk/chrissie-wellington/index.html) to keep me going.
These are really useful coached running sessions, and I found them great as a way of regulating my step count and trying to find a rhythm. I used their 40 minute pyramid interval session to walk and run to, and eventually I ran the whole thing. Audiofuel now have an affiliation with the NHS Couch 2 5k program
Audiofuel really helped me get going in the early days, and I still use the music as motivation. When I wanted to try and start improving my speed, I would go back to Audiofuel to find faster music and got faster by increasing my steps per minute.
When we moved house to Gloucestershire, I was a couple of months into my running journey, and had reached about 4K comfortably. A couple of weeks after moving in, someone from the local running club contacted me asking if I might be interested in joining, and so by then being fairly used to putting myself out of my comfort zone, I blindly turned up one Tuesday evening, with no idea what to expect. That night, I ran 6 MILES.4K, to 6 miles in one evening! To this day I’ve no idea how I made it home, but I did it! Not at all recommended in any training plan, but my God, I took so much home from that one evening. Mainly, you don’t know what you are capable of, and you never know what doors you are leaving closed by not giving something a go. I would argue that that one evening probably changed my life. It gave me confidence to push the boundaries and go beyond what I thought I was able to do. Until that day I had always avoided running in company because I worried I wouldn’t be good enough or that they would discover I wasn’t really any sort of runner. It was the first time I ran in the company of people who really enjoy exercise, and have a passion for helping others to do the same. Over the past two years I have made some incredible friends all of whom have helped and supported me in some way to get to where I am today. Before I met these people I had never felt that I fitted anywhere in life and had always avoided being part of any groups. Along with the fitness and feel good factor that the club has brought me, I am so grateful for these amazing, inspirational and kind people who are now in my life, and I know some if not all of them will be friends for life.
Two of the questions I am asked regularly are:
How do you have the energy to run and look after two children full time?
Where do you find the motivation?
In terms of energy, I actually found that it works the opposite way to what you would expect, in that getting out for a run actually brings you back feeling alive, renewed and ready to carry on. I was running in the midst of night feeding and sleep training, and I can honestly say it saved me! Now I know a little more about fitness training, I know that running makes your body more efficient at energy production and can therefore increases your physical resilience, making running round after children all day seem much less of a chore!
Regarding motivation, I found that having the chaos of two children and no childcare meant that when my husband wasn’t abroad and had finished work early enough so that I could have a break for an hour before bed time, the rarity of that happening meant that when it did, I didn’t even have time to question whether I wanted to go now or not, the answer was and is always YES! When I had a full time job, I could always run later or tomorrow, because time outside work was still my own, and guess what, I never went! Having enough time worked as demotivation for me. The vast majority of us can physically go out for a run if we want to, but it’s all about finding a reason to do it. I’ve still no real idea what made me lace up my shoes for the first time when my daughter was 8 weeks old, but I clearly had some sort of drive to make life better for myself.
My running over the past two years looks a bit like this:
In August 2016 I ran my first post natal 10k race in 1hr10 mins, 11.03 per mile.
In September 2016, I ran my second 10k in 1hr4mins, 10.27 per mile.
After that, I took the rest of the year to recover!
In April 2017, I completed my first half marathon in 2hrs 6mins, 9.39 per mile. Last year I went on to complete Tewkesbury (1.58.18), Cheltenham (2.02) and Stratford (1.56.25) half marathons.
In January, I came up with the crazy idea that 2018 would be the perfect time to attempt a marathon! After all, I’d been running 18 months and I had 2 children under 4 – perfect timing! The thought of 26.2 miles was genuinely terrifying, and I had no idea if I was even capable of over 14, but at the same time it was really exciting so I went with it!
So I set about Marathon training in February. Thanks to my little walking germ banks, it started off with tonsillitis followed by bronchitis, and then a permanent cold until mid April. Rightly or wrongly, I carried on through and started pushing it when I felt better. Bizarrely my body was able to carry on getting fitter, even though I didn’t feel at all fit.
In May, I had another go at Tewksbury half as a warm up for Edinburgh marathon, and loved every second of it, managing a PB time of 1.51!
In May, I finally ran Edinburgh marathon in a time of 3.57.27. It is up there with the very best things I have ever experienced, like getting married and having kids. The sense of pride and achievement from crossing that finishing line is huge, and just something I will never forget. So much so that two weeks after Edinburgh I got bored of the post marathon blues, entered another one and got back on the training plan by the end of June ! I am due to run Chester Marathon on Sunday 7th October, aiming to beat my time at Edinburgh and hopefully come in around 3 hours 50. My training has gone well, and so I’m hopeful!
Running for mental health
I think it’s really important to recognise the positive impact I feel running regularly has had on my mental health. I mentioned that when I started running I really suffered with post natal depression, and if I’m honest my life has been one long struggle with complicated conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, phobias, depression, anxiety, and there are symptoms that now in my 30’s I am only just starting to get to grips with, like dissociation. I think important to make clear at this point that this doesn’t mean my life has been all about these conditions, it hasn’t. I have struggled with all of these issues whilst completing qualifications, holding down stressful jobs, starting a family, trying to function normally, and finding my way in the world like everyone else. Your mental health should not prevent you having a life. My mental health issues have occasionally meant that I have made poor decisions, (not finishing that course, not being able to do that presentation), but largely my issues have run in the background while I try to suppress them. My point is that it is possible to live “normally” and be highly functioning with mental health issues like these, but it can lead to feeling like you’re living two versions of your own life, and so I struggle with dissociation a lot, feeling like I’m only half here. Running seems to be the one thing I can do which really improves that and makes me feel alive, calm, all in one place. It gives me a break from all of that, and has provided me with a healthy mechanism of stress relief that I feel in turn has really helped my confidence and self esteem. Running allows me to take time and space for myself, to process whatever is going on in life, ground myself, look around and appreciate the world we live in, and walk back into the house a better person.
In terms of weight and my relationship with food, I am in a better place than I have ever been, and in my experience of talking to people about food, I’m in a better place than most. I feel more or less in control of my weight, food is strictly energy and fuel, nothing more, nothing less. I enjoy healthy whole food, I don’t count calories, weigh food or restrict fat, I eat according to hunger and what I feel I need, and I am able to be mindful about the food decisions I make. That’s not to say that I don’t still love chocolate! I can mindfully decide to treat myself every now and again
So you could say that I pretty much epitomise the term “run happy”
I’m sure no one has managed to escape the fact that as a population, we are in the middle of a mental health crisis. People you see every day, in the street, at the bus stop, at the school gates, in the local shop are busy NOT talking to each other about how they feel, and instead responding to each other with a smoke screen of anger, disconnection and aggression, resentful and feeling that the world owes them something more. Mental health in general practice is being treated with drugs before talking because resources are so stretched, and there is little support for people to get out there and do some exercise, or talk about their problems.
It has never been so possible to spend so much time with someone and actually know nothing about them. People are afraid to talk to anyone about who they really are and what they really feel out of fear of the implications it may have on friendships, status, career etc. It has never been so possible to be surrounded by people day in, day out, but at the same time feel so lonely, disconnected, and empty. These are the things we need to work together to put an end to.
It’s taken me a really long time to finish this post! It’s a pretty scary thing to put out there in the public domain, but also I really wanted to get it right.
I hope my story really does prove that anyone, really anyone can start running and at the very least: self improvement is not a distant dream, you just need to look inside yourself and find a reason.
If putting this out there can inspire one person to get out there and run, or just start to improve their quality of life or even just help one person to feel less alone in their struggles, and start to it will be worth it!